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Safety in the Studio

Building on previous issues relating to toxicology of ceramic materials, this page concentrates on general safety rules for the ceramic studio. Many of the rules below are common sense and you may be well familiar with them. However, many people are either not aware of some of these general guidelines, or choose to ignore them... Most of these rules apply to the small or large studio or college department alike.

Studio Safety Rules

  • Never sweep the studio ...rather vacuum with a small particle filter in place or wet everything and mop or vacuum with a wet pick up filter. Use an air filter if possible.
  • Open footwear, e.g.. sandals, etc., are inadequate. Full protection is needed for your feet.
  • Loose clothing which may accidentally find its way into operating machinery should also be avoided.
  • Similarly with long hair -- as above.
  • Floors should be kept clean. Clean up spilt clay, slip and water and other materials immediately.
  • Don't put your hand into operating clay mixers etc., or you may find yourself neatly blended into the mix.
  • Arrangement of benches, bins, storage areas, etc., should allow maximum freedom of movement.
  • Fire extinguishers should be placed in an accessible position near the studio. If a fire develops in the studio and you are keeping a fire extinguisher there, the heat may prevent you from reaching it.
  • Accessibility of power and light switches: keep switches and electrical cables away from water or if this cannot be avoided sufficient protection against contact should be made.
  • Never turn off electrical appliances with wet hands especially in combination with water on the floor.
  • Avoid use of extension cords where they may intersect areas where traffic is most likely.
  • Materials should be stored in a dry place. Plaster should be set aside from these materials.
  • Areas set aside for plaster work should be cleaned thoroughly after use. Buckets and other materials used for this work should be for plaster work only, minimizing the possibility of foreign matter fouling up clay.
  • Food and drink is best consumed outside the studio or in an area where contamination by chemicals, dust in the air, etc., is minimal.
  • Hands should be washed immediately and thoroughly after handling glaze materials and any other toxic minerals.
  • A well ventilated area in the immediate vicinity of the kiln is mandatory; in fact it is best to have kilns of all types outside the main studio area thus eliminating the risk of poisoning yourself with carbon monoxide, unburned gas, sulfurous gases, etc., emitted especially during reduction.
  • Safety clothing, eye protection, gloves, etc. should be easily accessible.
  • Wear welding goggles when looking into a glowing kiln, otherwise eye cataracts will develop over the years.
  • Never brush a kiln shelf with bare hands. Jagged pieces of glaze or grit stick to the shelf and can easily tear the skin.
  • Kilns should be checked, so that they meet regulations stipulated by your regional councils.
  • Never ignite a gas kiln without opening the door a short way first. Accumulated gas can ignite and explode. Opening the door allows igniting gas to escape.
  • To check for gas leaks use a gas detector or soapy water and a brush, but never use a naked flame.
  • Auto cut off and failsafes are preferable and should be checked periodically.
  • Extreme care should be exercised when lifting heavy articles. It is essential for the studio potter to be aware of correct lifting techniques otherwise physical damage is inevitable. A trolley should be used if necessary.
  • Incorrect methods of wedging large pieces of clay may cause injuries, especially to the back. Damage may occur after a period of several years. When wedging you should be well aware of your capabilities of lifting a piece of clay, remembering that this weight has to be maneuvered at least 21 times before it is wedged. Back and stomach muscles are strained if the weight is too heavy. Secondly, the hands should be released from the piece of clay on the downward movement, just before it makes contact with its other half, otherwise the sudden curtailing of momentum at table level creates jarring tremor which is transferred through the body via the hands, the latter of which acts as a lever and jerks the spine upward - not good at all.

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